Digital Divide Matters
Back in Mexico City in 1985, only few people had a telephone line. In order to have one, you have to be very rich or have been placed in a waiting list for about 10 to 15 years. I remember wanting to have a telephone at that time. I was 15 and I wanted to be able to call my mother to let her know I was going to be late or call some of my friends who had a telephone. Ten years later, I was living in USA and my mother called me from Mexico to inform me that she finally got her telephone line. However, by this time had a cell phone and an e-mail account, something that it was not available in Mexico to everyone. Thirteen years later my mom called me to give me her cell phone number; she finally got one after all my aunts, uncles and cousins had acquired one. But now, I have my own blog, a YouTube account, Twitter, Flicker, Facebook and MySpace. I want to share my videos, pictures and thoughts with my family throughout these new social media tools, but after so many years, I can only call them. This is just one simple example of how much the digital divide really matters. Digital divide is not only a matter of access to luxury as Michael Powell described it “I think there is a Mercedes divide. I’d like to have one; I can’t afford one.” Digital divide is more than luxury; it’s about a technological disadvantage for developing countries, a lack competitive telecommunication market and structure, and language. If the economy growth of a country depends of access to technology, then technology is not a luxury is a necessity. It is also important to note that if digital divide is a luxury then everyone who lived in rich countries should have access to it and currently it is not the case.
One important aspect about developing countries is that by the time they finally catch up with today’s technology, they will find out that technology has move on and now they have to catch up with that. That is why is so difficult for a developing country to move up to the level of a developed country. On one hand developed countries have the technology and the money to continue exploring new technology and on the other hand, developing countries struggle to provide the basic needs to their people. For instance, the bottom forty countries with internet users in 2002 were among the countries with the most conflicts in the world (pp 5). These countries were struggling with poverty, war, literacy and hunger, and access to technology was not a priority. How can developed countries expect these countries to be up to date with technology? Internet is not a Mercedes divide; connection to the internet is a must in order to be connected to the rest of the world.
In addition, other barriers are to be considered in this digital divide. Access to internet is only the first step, but once access is not a problem, developing countries face other problems. Dijk and Hacker argue that these barriers are at an individual level like; mental access, skills access, material and usage access. It is very difficult for people to mentally prepare themselves to use the internet, and once they decide to use it then they find out that they don’t have the necessary skills to use it. Then there is a question about what material to use or the best way to use it, should they use it for business, pleasure, advocacy or educational purposes. All of these aspects also depend on the restrictions placed by their government as well. Not all countries are ruled by democracy and this can also impact the access to internet and the advance of their people in regards to technology. Also, another important part to consider is language, not everyone speaks English, which is another barrier “language access”.
However, not only poor developing countries are facing the lack of technology access. For example, according to Access, Inclusion, and The Digital Divide (pp 13), Mexico is among the developed regions (world’s thirty richest nations) and has a very low internet penetration. In this case, wealth is not a barrier as the case of poor developing countries. For many years Mexico didn’t have a competitive telecommunication market or the structure. The only company providing telephone service in Mexico was “TelMex” which didn’t have the structure to cover the needs of a big city like Mexico City. That is why, there was only two ways to have telephone, one was to have enough money to pay for the “structure” (telephone posts and cables) or to wait until the structure was built in your area and you were first on the waiting list. Mexico didn’t have the structure that United States had in regards to competitive telecommunication markets, and that is why it was so difficult for Mexico to catch up with the telephone technology. Currently, internet service in Mexico is limited to internet cafés, internet businesses (that have telephone lines) or individuals who have a telephone line in their homes. In addition, the language is also another barrier for people in Mexico who only speak Spanish. According to Access, Inclusion, and The Digital Divide, 80% of websites are in English, which is a disadvantages for non-English speaking countries like Mexico.
Also, not everyone in United States has access to internet, and according to this week reading, United States is among the top of the thirty richest nations. For example, back in 2004 only 67% of the white, non-Latino population was on line, only 43% of African American, non Latino population was on line and only 59% of the Latino population was online. What happened to the rest of the population? In the E-Government reading (pp 105) the author states that “When asked whether the US should proceed “slowly” or “quickly” with e-government, government officials by a nearly 2 to 1 margin select “quickly”. In contrast, the public by a greater than 2 to 1 margin selects “slowly”. The public knows that this is a process to be taken slowly in order for everyone to be able to catch up with the technology. Bill Gates articulated “As government increasingly incorporated technology into its operations it will make information flow even more open and efficient”. He forgot to add that it will make information flow even more open and efficient to only those who have access to this technology. The government and everyone else needs to remember that digital divide still exist even in rich countries like United States, because is not only about having money to be able to have access, is about having the structure and the language capacity (not everyone in United States speaks English) and that is why it’s important to go “slow”.
In conclusion, digital divide really matters. This divide is caused not only by money as it’s in the case for poor developing countries, but also the lack of a competitive telecommunication market and structure, and language. Money limits the access not only to internet, but to education and skills to be able to use this technology. A competitive telecommunication market and structure is also necessary in order to have access as well. And finally, language needs to be considered as an important factor to be able to access this new technology. Therefore, having access to internet is not a luxury that only “rich developed” countries can have. In the case of Mexico (29th richest country in the world) technology is not about luxury (money) is about not having a competitive telecommunication market and structure (not everyone in Mexico have a phone line in order to be connected to internet) and it’s about language, more Spanish websites are needed with internet Spanish language that they can understand.
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